With over 30 years experience of watching and listening to golfers trying to improve their game I am constantly amazed at how they expect to perform at their best when under pressure on the golf course and spend no time whatsoever under pressure in practice!
In fact usually on the range or practice ground they are in exactly the opposite mode. Picture the scene, 100 balls, a target enormously large and no consequence if the target is missed! Is there any wonder that there is some success in that scenario which leads to positive affirmations that their game is good. Only to find the moment they step onto the first tee their game is not at the level they perceived, or indeed with more proficient golfers it crumbles when then they need it most!
For those of you that read my blog entitled 'The 5 Ps of Winning Golf' you will be familiar that one of the key steps to improving your game is to practice under Pressure. Of course pressure is an intriguing subject but if we look to the English dictionary to clarify it, one definition fits golf perfectly
'the influence or effect of someone or something'
The 'someone' is almost always ourselves and the 'something' is the situation we are presented with on the golf course or tournament.
So from a coach's point of view we have to address both these issues as part of a players practice schedules.
The 'something' largely comes from the environment of the golf course or the situation presented to us in competitive play. This is why it is vital that part of your practice has some context to playing on the golf course or competing under tournaments conditions. this is not always easy but there are two important factors that I would always try to include to recreate that golf course feeling.
Variability - Always changing the type of shot, club, target line, the size of the target, the lie etc. This is how golf is played we rarely hit the same shot twice in a row. Often you need to be creative but it's very possible.
Spacing - Avoiding hitting shots machine gun style, giving time to think and walk in between shots would be perfect. Interleaved practice where for example we may hit a drive followed by a chip, followed by a putt, followed by an iron shot is one of my favourite styles of practice.
The 'someone' is obviously the pressure we all feel when out of our comfort zone. This happens for many reasons in golf. Often we feel we can't accomplish the task or the fear of failing is so large, sometimes our round is unbelievably good or bad. In each of these situations and many more our thoughts and ability to manage the process of hitting the shot are impeded. This is why I always try to incorporate the following two factor in an attempt to recreate the pressure from within our own mind.
Challenge Point - Practice should get increasingly more difficult. The analogy I often give is like training in the gym to get stronger we nee to progressively train harder. Therefore drills should get more difficult, assessment tests harder and more complex so we are always going into the unknown and challenging ourselves with new tasks, just like on the golf course.
Consequence - If you don't care whether you complete or fail a task in practice then it is unlikely to create any pressure and you have less chance of dealing with these pressures when on the golf course. Of course this feeling comes from within but wagers for coffee, trying for PB's and having to complete a forfeit are all ways of adding some consequence into training.
For those of you reading this who have had coaching from me these concepts are no surprise. I spend a huge amount of time testing people as I call it, but really just trying to get them under some pressure or feeling uncomfortable. These sessions will always have one or often all of my four cornerstones of pressure practice, Variability, Spacing, Challenge Point and Consequence.
Im not a massive fan of practicing just to stroke our golfing ego's, yes there is a place for easy and supported practice when we are trying to learn and develop new tasks but as soon as there are signs of proficiency we need to be pushing ourselves into the unknown and training should at times be ugly! Always remember when we fail we are learning so if you make your practice environment too easy what are you learning?
Finally I have a thought for you. When I was on holiday in Borneo a few years ago the Rasa Ria Hotel I was staying in had its own Orangutan sanctuary which was obviously a tourist attraction but also an incredible place that managed the integration of infant Orangutan's back into jungle life.
The principle was simple the Orangutans who were born in captivity needed to understand what jungle life was like, with some protection from their keepers (they were tagged) and some guidance from there elders they were living in a controlled jungle environment which largely mimicked where they will eventually live.
When I asked one of the team 'What would happen if they were put straight back in the real
jungle?' he looked back at me and said ' They would be dead in weeks!'
Where is your Rasa Ria?
P.S. There was a fantastic golf course also at Rasa Ria with lots of golfers dying on it!!!
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